Maui News

DeCoite Becomes First Moloka‘i Woman in State Senate

By Wendy Osher
June 17, 2021, 3:43 PM HST
* Updated June 18, 5:03 PM
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Rep. Lynn DeCoite (left) and Sen. J Kalani English (right). PC: Sen. J Kalani English.

Governor David Ige announced the appointment today of Rep. Lynn DeCoite to the Senate District 7 vacancy created by the recent retirement of former Senator J. Kalani English on May 1, 2021. District 7 includes the rural areas of Haʻikū, Hāna, Kaupō, Kīpahulu, Nāhiku, Pāʻia, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Molokini.

Lynn DeCoite. Courtesy photo.

DeCoite, who is a resident of Hoʻolehua, Molokaʻi, is the current Representative for House District 13 and a small business owner, farmer and rancher.

She was among a short list of applicants reviewed by the governor after the Maui County Democratic Party narrowed the list to three finalists–that also included Yuki Lei Sugimura and Leo Caires. The wider applicant pool, before being narrowed also included interest from: Riki Hokama of Lānaʻi, Timothy Lara  and Walter Ritte of Molokaʻi. 

In making the announcement today, Gov. Ige said DeCoite has represented much of this area in the state House since February of 2015 when she was appointed to fill the vacancy of the late Mele Carroll.

He continued saying DeCoite has “served her constituents well in the state House and she’s remained in touch with the community. I am always amazed at how active Lynn is in advocating for her community–whether it be drought conditions on Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi, about too much tourists on Hāna Highway, or advocating for improvements in testing and vaccinations throughout her district.”

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“She understands the issues that the people of her district are facing. She has a broad vision and understanding of what is important to all people of Hawaiʻi; and most importantly, I think she will serve the residents of Senate District 7 very well,” said Gov. Ige.

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Rep. Decoite, who appeared at a press briefing announcing her appointment said she is honored by the selection.

“I know it’s a huge task and undertaking,” said DeCoite as she thanked a list of people, including former Senator English who had endorsed her bid for the seat.

Senate President Ron Kouchi (District 8 – Kauaʻi and Niʻihau) said the short list included three well qualified candidates. In regard to DeCoite, Kouchi said, “She has been active in her community… especially in areas regarding agriculture. She is a real farmer.”

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DeCoite is a third-generation homestead farmer. She went to Molokaʻi High School and then attended Molokaʻi Community College. She is a wife, mother of three children, and grandmother to one granddaughter. DeCoite and her husband own and operate L&R Farms Enterprises, LLC where they raise the famous Molokaʻi purple sweet potato.

Kouchi credited DeCoite in her current capacity, for addressing drought issues and the impacts that resulted in the overpopulation of axis deer on Molokaʻi as well as assisting with feeding programs for rural areas and ensuring resources are available for remote communities. “It is a partnership that has already been forged and I look forward to continue that partnership,” said Kouchi.

DeCoite will take office once the state senate qualifies her and administers the oath of office. She will become the tenth woman currently serving in the State Senate, the most women serving the senate at the same time, according to Sen. Pres. Kouchi. “As President of the Senate, I am proud that we are able to increase the diversity of our membership and I look forward to working with Senator DeCoite in her new role,” he said.

“It’s very special–one is because I also become the first woman form Molokaʻi to also be a senator. So it’s very special,” said DeCoite.

Governor Has Until Aug. 16 to Appoint District 13 Rep.

Gov. Ige said the Democratic Party is now tasked with soliciting applications to fill the District 13 state House seat which becomes vacant with the transition of DeCoite to the Senate. The party has 30 days to generate a list of three names that will be forwarded to the governor for his consideration. The governor has 60 days to make the appointment from the time of vacancy, by Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

The appointee must have been a member of the Democratic Party for at least six months, and shall at the time of appointment be a resident of House District 13. The appointee will serve the remainder of the term until the 2022 General Election. Candidacy statement applications are available online via Google Form at http://bit.ly/house13app or via Word document at http://bit.ly/hd13wordapp. The application may also be requested by sending an email to [email protected]

Candidacy statements will be due June 30 at 11:59 p.m. The 28 party officers who form the Democratic Party House District 13 District Council will then convene July 3 at 10 a.m. on Zoom to consider the applications and determine which three names to forward to Gov. Ige.

“I’d like to see those who have been involved in our district… involved in the issues, are willing to work and be open minded,” said DeCoite of perspective candidates. “At this time, I do not have a person off the top of my head, but I would like to see the candidates come forward and to also ask what are their commitments to the community.”

District 7 Priorities and Topics of Interest

When asked to expound upon the traffic problems along the Hāna Highway with the return of tourism to the area and if better enforcement is needed to address resident concerns.

“We’ve had this problem for many, many years. Maui Wayfinding has been part of trying to help with the problem,” said DeCoite, in reference to the reservation system now in place at Waiʻānapanapa State Park. “Of course definitely, the Department of Transportation has done their part in putting up signs, now with fees. These fees incurred could help to pay for enforcement, really needs to be put back where the county sees it reasonable to put more funding behind the officers… to enforce and ticket these people,” who are parking illegally.

“There should be more enforcement, and enforcement comes on the county side of it. So I would like to encourage that. I’d also like to encourage the the funding be made available for the Maui Wayfinding system so that it can help alleviate the traffic–not just for the residents, but for the tourists that are coming in there. As you know tourism is a big issue for us, and for our budget for the state of Hawaiʻi. But the funding needs to be put in place so that we can help to alleviate that traffic,” she said.

As for priorities, she said she’ll first try to settle in. “Of course my priority will always be that of the community,” she said. A more immediate priority, she said, is to try and get a flight back home to Molokaʻi. “There’s no flights leaving Honolulu for the next two days back to the island of Molokaʻi to see my family,” she said.

At the end of May, Hawaiian Airlines announced it will not restart its ‘Ohana by Hawaiian passenger service between Honolulu and Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i as well as its statewide ATR freighter cargo service.  The airline had suspended their operations January, and for many years was the only option for residents in wheelchairs or those needing physical assistance to be able to travel off island. 

At the time of the airline announcement, DeCoite said, “So many of us from Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i need to travel for basic and advanced medical care.” At the time, carrier Mokulele Airlines had expressed a commitment to bring more flights to Molokaʻi and Lāna‘i as the demand is needed.

“My priority has always been the priority of the people and it’s to continue to address those on a case by case basis. In this case, the budget is something that we continue to look at. I believe vaccination also needs to be at the top of the list and the transitioning of getting businesses back and our economy up and running,” said DeCoite.

DeCoite said she plans to run for reelection when the opportunity presents itself.

Groups and Dignitaries Comment on Appointment

Accolades on the appointment were received from various groups and dignitaries including Maui Mayor Michael Victorino who said, “Congratulations to Lynn DeCoite. We have worked together for years while she was a representative, and we will continue to work closely as she enters the Senate. The needs of our residents in Hāna, East Maui, Upcountry, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i are diverse and complex, and Lynn can build on her experience in the House to serve her new constituents in the 7th Senatorial District.”

“Senator J. Kalani English left big shoes to fill, and I am confident Lynn has the legislative experience to fill them. She has earned the support of her constituents and respect of her fellow legislators,” said Mayor Victorino.

The Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi extended its congratulations as well.

“Lynn DeCoite will bring a number of unique perspectives to the State Senate as a third-generation homestead farmer, a small business owner, and as a leader within several national organizations for legislators, ” said Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi in a press release statement.

“Lynn DeCoite has always been a vocal and effective advocate for the unique needs of Maui, Molokaʻi, and Lānaʻi, and will proudly build upon the legacy of Senator English,” said Stephanie Ohigashi, Chair of the Maui Democratic Party. “I wish her much success as Maui’s County’s newest Senator.”

“Our selection committee was impressed by Lynn DeCoite’s record of accomplishment as a House member, and also her hard-working, respectful, and humble approach to community issues. I trust that she will serve the people of Senate District 7 well,” said Stephen West, Co-Chair of the Senate District 7 Selection Body, which nominated Lynn Decoite as one of the three names for Governor Ige’s consideration last month.

In her candidacy statement to the Democratic Party officers within Senate District 7, DeCoite emphasized her desire to work on food independence and resiliency, affordable housing, and education issues. She also pledged to be “committed to keeping an open mind and [be] willing to listen and work with everyone to make the State of Hawai’i a better place for all of its people.”

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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